I'am proud to be a Wesleyan for several reasons.
For example, Wesleyans have never fought over which way you should baptize. You can immerse, sprinkle, pour, do it to an infant, do it to an adult, or not be baptized at all. We were opposed to slavery when most other Christian groups were riding the fence and many preachers were members of the KKK. We were in favor of women voting and taking all roles in ministry a hundred years before secular feminism and long before it was the "in" thing to teach in American society.
I would put the Wesleyan stance on inerrancy in a similar camp. Now mind you, I am describing what I see--I'm not anything like an official voice of the Wesleyan Church. And, mind you, you usually can't really say that everyone in a denomination has a certain view on an issue. We've had a lot of growth from other conservative denominations who presume that because we look a lot like the churches they come from in so many ways, we are just the same. I want to make it clear that we actually are a little different in flavor from other churches that come close to us in some areas.
For example, it's true that most of our churches only practice adult baptism by immersion. Indeed, even some Wesleyans are surprised to find that you can baptize infants in our churches. Most Wesleyans do take standard fundamentalist positions on political issues, but our Methodist roots peek out here and there, leading some Wesleyans to emphasize social justice over the issues fundamentalists tend to focus on.
I would say that the difference between the Wesleyan Church and so many other conservative churches is our "flavor," our spirit. We have rankled over how to live in the past, things we used to call "standards"--should women wear jewelry, should you have a job on Sunday. But we have rarely rankled over the same ideas that some of the better known groups have.
In general, I would say that we are really neither fundamentalist nor evangelical in flavor, but pietist. I would describe pietism as an approach to Christianity that is far more interested in a person's spirit than their thinking. We did not fight the battles of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 1900's. Those were the battles from which the term inerrancy arose. Churches like the Southern Baptists or the Missionary Church have a very specific understanding of inerrancy. For them, the word evokes debates over whether the Bible contradicts itself on matters of history and science.
Wesleyans have never had these debates. When we were hashing out our current form, the two main groups from which we came discussed whether to put the word "inerrancy" into our official statements. One of these parent groups, the Pilgrim Holiness Church, didn't have this word in their statements. The other group, the Wesleyan Methodist Church, had only introduced the term into its statement in the 50's at the urging of a man named Stephen Paine. He was a scholar from Houghton College in New York who was tracking the fundamentalist-modernist issues.
Eyewitnesses have conveyed the process by which the term was introduced into our church statements. The Pilgrims had not been tracking the debate--they were more interested in putting statements on the end times (by the way, here is another issue where wisdom won out, the Wesleyan Church does not have a specific position on how the end times will happen. Most Wesleyans would be pre-millenial and would believe in a seven year tribulation, but all positions are possible for a Wesleyan, within the limits of basic orthodoxy). But who among us would want to say the Bible has errors? The statement was put into our Discipline as a vote of confidence in the inspiration, truthfulness, and authority of the Bible.
But we have never defined what inerrancy might specifically entail on the issues that gave the term birth. It is for us a very broad affirmation that God never makes mistakes and God inspired the whole Bible.
Why do I think this generality is a good thing? Because the whole fundamentalist-modernist controversy seems so confused in retrospect. While the fundamentalists opposed the modernist positions, they opposed them within the same modernist categories as their opponents. They defined errors in terms of modernist definitions of science and history when the Bible wasn't written for modernists. It was an anachronistic standard by which to define errors. Meanwhile, the Wesleyan tradition continued on its merry away, blissfully uninvolved in these controversies for the most part. It had a conservative confidence in the Bible without defining its meaning on modernist terms.
Take Harold Linsell, who wrote The Battle for the Bible. At one point he tries to harmonize the various gospel accounts of Peter's denial of Jesus. In the end, to get all the denials in the gospels in, he suggests that maybe Peter denied Jesus six times--three before the cock crowed once and three before it crowed the second time.
This is ingenious, but notice that Lindsell's suggestion doesn't actually match any of the gospels. Fundamentalists regularly end up making up their own, strange versions of the Bible's meaning in an attempt to fit things together. The problem is that Lindsell has created a fifth gospel that is actually none of the four that are actually inspired. His intentions are wonderful, but his effort and end product misguided. In the wrong hands, this approach can be dangerous because (like the Pharisees and the Judaizers) it pays more attention to the letter than to the spirit.
A Wesleyan would not usually worry about working out inerrancy in this kind of detail. Peter denied Jesus three times. Perhaps there is some way of fitting these things together, but the point of the incidence was not about the exact way in which the denials took place--it was the fact that he denied him (I suppose you could even debate whether this was even really a main point).
In this regard I like Asbury Theological Seminary's statement on inerrancy: "the Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms." The important question is thus, what was God affirming when He inspired this particular passage. Was the point of Philippians 2:10 that the earth is flat and that there are beings under and above the earth:
"So that at the name of Jesus every knee might bow--of those in the skies and on the earth and under the earth..."
No. The way of picturing the world is of course the way Jews in Paul's day pictured the world. The point God was making was not cosmology, but the fact that every living being that exists will bow before Christ. Am I surprised or disappointed in any way that God revealed this truth in terms that Paul and the Philippians readily understood? God forbid! How self-centered and narcissistic to assume He had to reveal on my terms when they were the original audience! No, I celebrate that God is a God who speaks, not above our heads, but in terms we can understand.
The fundamentalist understanding of inerrancy unfortunately is based on an incoherent understanding of language--one that the Wesleyan, "spiritual" sense of inerrancy thankfully by-passes. Because fundamentalism was a response to "liberal" challenges to the truth of the Bible, it had some basic sense of what it might mean to read the Bible for what it originally meant when it was first written. Meanwhile, my Wesleyan forebears were still reading the Bible in a "spiritual" way that, without really even realizing it, didn't pay much attention to the original meaning. They were interested in the spiritual message God intended the words to have.
But fundamentalists, since they were forced by the modernists to pay attention to the original context, tried incoherently to combine these two quite different ways of reading the Bible's words. They argued that the original meaning was the spiritual message for all time.
But these are two distinct meanings. There is the original meaning, the meaning these words had to their original audiences. Then there is any meaning God might have spoken to the later church or to individuals today through these words. The two are rarely exactly the same, for we don't view the world the way the original audiences did. If the words applied directly to us today, they would not have applied as directly to them. But since the Bible literally tells us these books were first written to them, they will not apply as directly to us today. The fundamentalist understanding of inerrancy is thus based on a fundamental confusion over how language works.
So as a Wesleyan, I think Asbury's very general statement of inerrancy captures our flavor well. If I am asked to bring my knowledge of the original context and meaning of the Bible to the word inerrancy, I have to get a little more complex.
If we are talking of the spiritual meanings God brings to the Bible, these meanings are of course immediately and directly without error. Anything that God has authentically revealed to the Church, to a specific church group or specific individuals, these meanings are of course without error.
In terms of the original meanings, we must look at all the books of the Bible as individual instances of inspired, inerrant revelation. The points that God was making in each case were without error for each particular context. The more we understand these moments of revelation in historical context, we realize that these moments are in a flow of revelation. God's message in Deuteronomy freely allowed for divorce and polygamy. There was no error made for that context. But Deuteronomy does not give us the final word on these subjects. We must thus understand inerrancy in terms of the place of each book in the flow of salvation history.
Further, much of the instruction of the Bible addressed specific situations and contexts. The passage of 1 Corinthians 11 on women's head coverings is so foreign to our culture that even scholars can scarcely agree on exactly what Paul meant. And greeting the brothers with a holy kiss just wouldn't come across the same way at my home church that it did in ancient Thessalonica. We must therefore understand inerrancy also in terms of the specific contexts and situations that each book originally addressed.
God is a God who takes on the flesh of those to whom He speaks. He did it as Jesus; he did it in the original meaning of the Bible. Each book of the Bible in its original meaning is an instance of God meeting a particular group of people with just what they needed, meeting them where they were at in their contexts and understandings, stooping to their weakness to move them in the right direction.
So I welcome those who feel a kindred spirit in our Wesleyan churches. But if from time to time you find some flavors that don't look Baptist, it's because we are really more pietist in our roots than fundamentalist. We may use some of the same words, but they don't always have the same exact connotations as they do in other traditions. The end result often looks similar, but it is a different spirit that is much more open than closed on matters like these. As John Wesley once said, "If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand."